Alexander: This Dodgers failure is on everybody

Organizational arrogance? Organizational hubris?

When we sift through the ashes of the 2022 Dodgers season, which seemed so promising for so long before an utter collapse in the most important part of the season, maybe the first clue was the trading deadline. And maybe the overriding takeaway is to never assume.

While the Padres’ A.J. Preller made big moves at the deadline, which seemed curious for a team that was so far back in the division race but now looks brilliant, Andrew Friedman nibbled at the margins. He acquired reliever Chris Martin for outfielder Zach McKinstry, and Martin turned out to be one of the bullpen’s best arms down the stretch. He traded for slugger Joey Gallo, and aside from a few brief bursts Gallo did not supply much offensive production, though his defensive skills in the outfield were better than expected.

What Friedman didn’t do? Go to the mat to add starting pitching.

Understand, the deadline came after Walker Buehler had gone on the injured list with forearm/elbow issues, but it was a couple of weeks before it was determined he would need Tommy John surgery. Clayton Kershaw would go on the injured list days after the deadline with a recurrence of back pain. Tony Gonsolin, who had a breakout year, went on the injured list in late August with a forearm strain. Dustin May came off the IL in August, following a 15-month Tommy John rehab of his own, but went on the IL again in late September with low back tightness and was activated two days after the regular season ended.

The point: There were plenty of arms, but also a good number of questions. And the available pitchers on the market at the deadline either went elsewhere or stayed put. The Dodgers could have pursued Luis Castillo from the Reds; Seattle’s Jerry DiPoto aggressively won that bidding, and Castillo had an impact for the Mariners. Or they could have traded for the Marlins’ Pablo Lopez, who wound up staying put and had a 3.75 ERA and career high in innings (180) for Miami.

The old adage is that you can never have enough pitching. Maybe old adages should still have a place amid today’s analytics-fueled, executive-dominant baseball.

This one bit the Dodgers in Game 3 Friday night in San Diego. Gonsolin started, and while manager Dave Roberts had estimated he might be good for 70 pitches he acknowledged before the game that 70 was overly optimistic. Gonsolin lasted 1-1/3 innings and 42 pitches, and the Dodgers wound up using six pitchers in the 2-1 loss that put them on the brink.

You can ask why Gonsolin in Game 3 and not Tyler Anderson. But they didn’t have enough healthy and stretched-out starting pitchers. And either way, it was going to come down to bullpen usage.

This sounds strange for a team that led the majors in ERA. But that stat is even more amazing considering they put 17 different pitchers on the injured list over the course of the 2022 season. (And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the club’s PR staff no longer includes the list of the season’s injured list moves on the daily notes distributed to the media.) Over the 162-game regular season they used 30 different pitchers.

It is different when you can send players up and down or create, um, therapeutic injured list moves during the season. In the postseason, when you’re limited to one 26-man roster and 13-man pitching staff and can’t change except for serious injury, making the right decision at the outset is crucial.

Roberts, as usual, will get the lion’s share of the blame for the pitching decisions. But always keep in mind that pitcher usage, among other things, is if not heavily scripted at least laid out beforehand in consultation with Friedman and the analytics staff.

Phillips gave the game away after Game 1 when, asked about pitching in a closer-less bullpen, acknowledged that relievers get input on which hitters they might face and when they might face them, “sometimes early in the day,” he said.

Starting pitcher usage is heavily dictated too, and as the case in many front offices the idea of avoiding having a pitcher face a lineup a third time has become gospel, even when it creates more of a burden rather than less.related_articles location=”left” show_article_date=”false” article_type=”automatic-primary-section”]

Consider: Anderson pitched five two-hit innings on 86 pitches Saturday night. He probably could have started the sixth as well against Juan Soto, Manny Machado and Brandon Drury, and in fact said afterward, “I could’ve gone five more. I would have thrown 150 pitches if I was allowed to, if they would’ve let me. But you never second guess.”

Maybe getting one more inning out of the starter changes the game. Maybe you can then have Chris Martin pitch the seventh, and maybe he doesn’t give up walk/single/single, as Tommy Kahnle did to begin that fateful seventh, when the Padres scored all five of their runs and the Dodgers cycled through three relievers, none of them named Phillips.

And, in what Roberts had called an “all hands on deck” situation before the game, with the season on the line, where was Brusdar Graterol? Or Blake Treinen? Or even May? And were those decisions made in the dugout or by the general manager and his staff hours before?

Yes, it’s easy to second guess. Unfortunately for Dodgers players and their fans, their team makes it necessary seemingly every October.

And you wonder how many of these season-ending, soul-crushing defeats might have had different endings if the front office had concentrated on assembling talent and stayed out of game-planning.

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